Monday, January 27, 2014

How To Never Lose Your Contacts or Data on Your Smartphone

This post will tell you everything you need to know about:

  1. Having to never lose any of your contacts
  2. Having to never lose any of your chats/messages/whatsapp conversations, etc.
Required: An android phone (though the concepts presented in this post will apply to other smartphones like iPhone, and Blackberry too)

What you need to know
Your smartphone has two kinds of memory - the system memory (the internal memory) and the user memory (SD card, external storage)

MemoryConsistingAnalogyWhat it meansThings stored
InternalPhone memoryBrainWhen your phone dies, the memories die tooContacts, accounts, settings, application data
ExternalSD CardNotebookThe memories are not tied to your phone, they can travel from phone to phone, state to stateImages, videos, application backups

So what?
So, when you inadvertently burn your phone's motherboard, or decide to format your phone, you'll lose everything on the internal memory and nothing on the SD card. *

How to utilize this knowledge and save your ass
Now that we know what kind of memory is vulnerable to being lost, we can think of backing up things stored on it - contacts, accounts, settings, application data, etc.

There are two places you can back your data up at:
  1. SD card
  2. Cloud (that is servers of google, apple, etc)

Easy way: When adding a new contact, an often neglected option asks you "Create contact in: Google Account, Phone, or SIM?"

If you choose "Google" as the answer to the above (instead of "Phone"), you're done. Over. That contact will be synced to your google account the next time you're connected to internet, and voila! You'll never lose it.

Note: Contrary to what some people think, choosing that the contact be saved in Google doesn't mean that the contact won't show up on your phone. A Google contact acts just like a phone contact, only that it will also be synced to the google server.

What about existing contacts on phone?
Moving the contacts you've already saved to your phone from your phone to Google is also going to be a piece of cake.

See if in your Contacts --> Menu or Contacts --> Menu --> Settings there is an option meaning "Move contacts". If it exists,
Step 1: simply click "from: phone" and "to: google".

Most phones I've come across does not have the above "move" option. For these, we're going to take a scary approach.
Step 1: Contacts --> Menu --> Export Contacts
Choose "phone" and it will save all your phone contacts to your SD card.
Step 2: Contacts --> Menu --> Export Contacts
Choose "sim" if you also have some contacts on your sim card.
Step 3: (Scary step) Contacts --> Menu --> Delete all contacts! (Don't worry, we have exported all your contacts to SD card in step 1 & 2)
Step 4: Contacts --> Menu --> Import Contacts
Choose "Google account" when you're prompted where to import contacts to.

Alternate way
If you do not ever connect to internet, an alternate way to back up your contacts is to follow steps 1 and 2 above, and then step 4 when you need to restore your contacts. The disadvantage of this approach is that this is manual.

Alternate way with software download
Just download Contact Backup apps and these will do the above alternative automatically.

SMS Messages
The SMSes are unfortunately never backed up to the cloud by default. If you still use SMS for communication after all the TRAI regulations, I have the following app recommendation

SMS Backup+
It is free, and it works charmingly well, backing up all your SMS conversations to gmail thus allowing you to use gmail's search to search even your SMS conversations.
  • Backs up SMS, Call Log, and even Whatsapp conversations (excluding group messages)
  • Backs these up to GMail!
  • Free!
Whatsapp Conversations
Whatsapp has a built-in backup feature. By default it is on, and runs at 4 AM every day. It creates a backup of all your chats to the "Whatsapp" folder of your SD card. You can also trigger a manual backup, in case you know you're going to break your phone.

  • Never "Delete and exit group"
  • Never "Clear all conversations"
Restoring data after crash:
  • After you install whatsapp again, it automatically detects the backup inside "Whatsapp" folder on your phone's SD card, and offers to restore conversations for you.
  • Do NOT choose to continue without restoring. Once you do this, you'll potentially fork your message history thus leaving you with no chance to have a "total" history of your whatsapp messages.
Advanced restore: (If you buy a new phone or something)
  •  In your new phone, and new SD card, there's no "Whatsapp" folder. So, when whatsapp runs it won't detect the backup (because there is no backup)
  • Just copy the "Whatsapp" folder and paste it in your SD card BEFORE installing whatsapp. Now, whatsapp automatically detects your backup and restores messages from it.
The whatsapp backup file is saved in your SD card. So, if you lose your phone, and lose the SD card along with it, you could end up losing whatsapp backups too. But there's a way to sync those backups to the cloud. Checkout Dropsync, or Auto Backup for Whatsapp
In newer android phones, there is a setting "backup & restore" that allows backup of all settings. But otherwise you'll need different apps. Just search "backup settings" in play store.

Other apps
The way android is structured, the data of apps cannot be accessed by other apps (unless you're rooted). So, if the app (whose data you're trying to backup) doesn't have a backup option, you are out of luck. (If you're really into it, you can root your phone. Although this might lead to countless sleepless nights)

*Some phones have an external storage that is built-in, or comes with the phone. I haven't played around with this a lot, but chances are that this acts like an SD card.

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